Angered by the seeming disregard for the statutory provisions of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Act, a group of concerned stakeholders in Nigeria’s maritime industry has dragged President Muhammadu Buhari to court over the premature extension of the tenure of Ms Hadiza Bala Usman as Managing Director of the NPA.
President Muhammadu Buhari had on January 21, 2021, through his Special Adviser, Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Adesina, announced the reappointment of Hadiza Bala Usman as Managing Director of the NPA for another five years, six clear months before the expiration of her initial 5 year tenure.
The stakeholders who argued that the President’s action was in contravention of the statutory provisions of the NPA Act and the Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,had argued that Usman’s premature tenure elongation would set a fertile ground for litigation, as the action was illegal, wrongful, null and void and of no effect whatsoever.
The plaintiffs held that the newly constituted Board of NPA has no Representative of the Ministry of Transportation as enshrined in the statues of the NPA Act. Furthermore, they argued that the statement issued by Adesina was silent on the role of the three Executive Directors as required by the law; while the reconstitution of the Board reflected complete disregard for professionalism and requisite expertise in shipping and ancillary maritime matters for its members.
In the suit filed on Thursday, March 25, 2021, the group led by Elder Asu Beks, CEO, Maritime Media Limited, is challenging the powers of President Muhammadu Buhari to lawfully and prematurely reappoint Usman to her position as Managing Director of the NPA, six clear months before her tenure expires. Other plaintiffs comprise Mr Tompra Abarowei and Mr Miebi Senge.
The suit marked with number FHC/L/CS/485/2021, was instituted on behalf of the group by Chief Mike A.A. Ozekhome, SAN chambers. Apart from President Buhari, other defendants in the court action are the Minister of Transportation, the Managing Director of the NPA, Ms Hadiza Bala Usman and the Chairman, Board of NPA, Mr Emmanuel Adesoye.
The group has therefore put forward the following questions for determination:
1. “Whether the 1st defendant in the discharge of his statutory duties has the vires under Section 2 and 10 of the NPA Act to lawfully and prematurely re-appoint the 3rd defendant to her position as the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) six clear months before the expiration of her existing tenure of office”.
2. “Whether the acts of the 1st defendant in the appointment and composition of the NPA Board are not illegal, wrongful, unlawful, unconscionable, null and void, and of no effect whatsoever.
Consequently, the group is seeking the following reliefs from the court:
1. A declaration that the act of the 1st defendant in purporting to re-appoint and/or extend the tenure of office of the 3rd Defendant as the Managing Director of the NPA 6 clear months from the expiration of her present tenure is in contravention of the provisions of Sections 2 and 10 of the NPA Act, Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and thereby renders same unlawful, wrongful, illegal, null and void, and of no effect whatsoever.
2. A declaration that the 1st Defendant lacks the authority, vires and power to prematurely re-appoint and extend the tenure of office of the 3rd Defendant as the Managing Director of the NPA six (6) clear months to the expiration of the said tenure.
3. A declaration that the appointment of and composition of the new Board of the NPA as announced by the President on 21st January, 2021, is in blatant violation of the express provisions of Section 2 of the NPA Act, as the Act does not contemplate the composition of the Board based on geopolitical zones.
4. An order setting aside the purported and premature re-appointment of the 3rd Defendant as the Managing Director of the NPA, and the consequential dissolution of the Board of the NPA headed by the 4th Defendant and as reconstituted by the 1st Defendant in January 2021.
5. An order directing the 3rd Defendant and the entire Board of the NPA to vacate forthwith their respective offices and refund all salaries, allowances and benefits received by them with effect from January 21, 2021, (When the Board was appointed), to the coffers of the Federal Government of Nigeria.
6. An order of perpetual injunction restraining the 1st Defendant, either by himself and/or acting through any of his Ministers, officers, servants, agents, and/or privies, under any guise howsoever from further breaching provisions of the NPA Act by prematurely re-appointing and extending the tenure of office of the 3rd Defendant occupant of the office of Managing Director, NPA and also members of the Board of the NPA, in gross violation of the express provisions of the NPA Act, LFN, (2004).
In the 19-point affidavit in support of the originating summons, the plaintiffs averred that the NPA Act is the enabling Act that governs the NPA and it stipulates the composition and membership of the Board and that such is not based on geopolitical zones as the present Board suggests.
They further posited that the actions of President Buhari are clearly outside and in excess of the provisions of the NPA Act.
The defendants have been served respectively and have 30 days to respond to the summons or cause an appearance to be entered for them.